Biblical Fragrances from the Judean Desert

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 |  Ariel Rudolph

In ancient times, a wonderful plant was grown on the shores of the Dead Sea - the ancient Balm of Gilead. It was one of the most important medicines and the best perfume in the Roman Empire was produced from the plant. The ancient Balm of Gilead was an ingredient of the incense of the Temple and a component of the Anointing oil during the Second Temple period.

According to ancient sources, the plant reached the Kingdom of Judah as a gift given by Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. Queen Cleopatra was also a fan of the finest perfume. The perfume favored by the kingdom was also used by the daughters of Jerusalem who used the perfume to drive the boys crazy. The ancient Balm of Gilead plant that serves as the heart of the fragrance is considered the finest type of myrrh in the world.

In the Bible, we first read of balm when Joseph's brothers throw him into a pit and a caravan of Ishmaelites passed by with a shipment of fragrant spices. "Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. (Genesis 37:25)

In addition to Balm of Gilead, frankincense - Boswellia Sacra - (Levona in Hebrew) is grown on the farm. It is the main ingredient in the temple incense (ketoret in Hebrew).

On the farm, the holy anointing oil, which was used in biblical times to anoint priests, prophets and kings, has been reproduced and so far is sold in very small quantities. Honey is also produced from the frankincense blossoms is also expensive. To acquire some you need to be placed on a long prepaid waiting list and need to be patient.

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